The "early" exit from the tournament certainly colors things, but it shouldn't cause us to overlook the Badgers' unprecedented accomplishments this season. They are:
- 30 victories, the most wins by any UW team ever;
- 13 conference victories, against the most conference wins by any UW team ever;
- again winning the in-state D-I championship, beating UW-M, UWGB, and the filthy papists of Marquette in their den of evil;
- attaining the highest rankings in school history in both polls, including the precarious week at #1;
- Alando making First Team All-America;
- winning at Illinois for the first time in Bo's tenure--Bo has now won at least one game at every Big Ten Arena;
- four starters garnering All-Big Ten Honors of some form;
- Alando winning Big Ten Player of the Year;
- going undefeated at home again, reclaiming the mantle that UW blew last season with the North Dakota State loss; and
- Alando breaks Michael Finley's school scoring record, ending his career as the 8th highest scoring player in Big Ten history.
These are fantastic accomplishments, and the team should feel proud of them. The list feels a bit incomplete though, maybe because the achievements aren't as concrete as winning the conference regular season or tournament, or advancing deep into the NCAA tournament.
I suppose other folks will take exception to this, but I think the team performed admirably, all season, even after Brian Butch went down. The loss of Butch hurt it deeply. My belief is that when a team, like UW, is more than the sum of its parts, as UW decidedly was this season and last season, losing a key piece or two affects it tremendously. That, if anything, is the lesson of this season and last season to me. Bo builds teams, and it's an intricate process, kind of like a Jenga structure. You take one small piece out, and the whole thing becomes much weaker, and/or collapses. You saw that last season, with two players that were solid contributors, but weren't starters, or even stars. And then you saw it again this season. Say it again, Wisconsin basketball teams, given our limits in who we can get and enroll, will always have to be more than the sum of their parts in order to be great. I think that's why I always feel we're the underdog, even when we're peforming wonderfully, running off a lot of wins, getting ranked really high, etc. We don't, and may never, have elite talent across the board. So, we have to be more cohesive, and better run, and more prepared, and smarter, than other elite teams. I think this team was that for most of this season, then we started fading down the stretch a bit (you can only intensely prepare so much), and Butch's injury put us out of whack. We lacked cohesion, we didn't looked prepared or together. We seemed nervous. So the season ends sadly, with longing for what might have been had things broken a little bit better.
But again, the Badgers did great things. Beating Pitt by double digits. Beating Marquette at Marquette with Alando catching fire. Winning at Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, all in the same season. Butch raining threes on Pitt. Highest rankings ever. A ton of national attention. Most wins ever in a season. Flowers' dunk against Minnesota. A lot of fantastic moments for a fine team at a fine university.